By Michael Williams
In the fall of 1963 the two schools in Gatlinburg were combined to join two communities and two student bodies as one. The Phi Beta Phi High School and Pittman Center High School were consolidated creating Gatlinburg-Pittman High School.
The students who first attended the newly consolidated school will be holding a 50 year reunion on Sept. 27 at their old alma mater. The celebration starts with a meet and greet from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Gatlinburg-Pittman High School. A picnic will be held at the Park at Twin Creek Picnic Area beginning at 5 p.m. to midnight.
In the spring of 1963, the two high schools held what was to be their final high school graduation. Many lower classmen watched the graduation ceremonies with sadness and apprehension realizing the end of an era was at hand and a new era was dawning.
“With sadness and anticipation we watched the last senior class of Pi Beta Phi High School march across the stage and receive their diplomas,” stated Susie Smith Reagan. “Sadness as seemingly over a summer’s time, the institution of Pi Beta Phi High School would cease to exist. As high school students we would be saying good-bye to the only school most of us had ever attended. We were leaving the buildings where we could sometimes see the ghosts of our older brothers and sisters and, in the case of some of the locals, our parents walking the halls. We felt anticipation because in the fall, as high school students, we would be attending a brand new school along with students from Pittman Center High School. I’m sure they felt the same about leaving behind the halls of their old school too!”
The students of the new Gatlinburg-Pittman High School eagerly started the new school year ready for a new adventure. Their sadness and anticipation had given way to a new role. As they ventured into the new school with each step, they made history. Working together the student body and teachers selected new school colors, a school mascot and even the school name. While none of their decisions would be world changing that year, it certainly impacted their own world.
The students had an entire summer to prepare for our experience of making local history and becoming the first classes to walk the halls of Gatlinburg Pittman. But delays in construction meant that the kids would be entering a school not quite ready for occupancy. There were no lockers installed as of yet. All the clocks mounted on the walls were malfunctioning. The bathrooms were not completed. Black boards were not mounted and most were simply propped against the walls. The gym floor was not quite ready for P.E. classes.
Compounding the challenges faced by the students was the muddy parking lot. Although construction workers worked in the evening to try to finish the project, students and teachers made the most of their uncomfortable circumstances. Most of the minor problems were fixed in due time. However, even in late spring the students were still parking and walking in mud.
“Some people recall that it was said that “Enough gravel was dumped in that lot to cover a road from here to Knoxville. That too was eventually settled,” stated Reagan.
Fortunately, the faculty worked diligently to welcome the students and make the transition easier. While the students missed their former principal, Carl Lewelling, it wasn’t long before they came to know and respect their new principal Gene Huskey.
“The new lunch staff was welcomed as their recipes and food prep just seemed better. It was probably just different and as all those ladies worked hard at doing the best with what they had to work with,” stated Reagan. “Nonetheless, for the first time in our recent memories the food was so great we actually looked forward to lunch.”
Often the combining of two student bodies, their traditions, and the many distinct personalities would be cause of some dissent among the ranks. But, the students of the new school displayed none. There was only a sense of community and school pride. They took the opportunity to adapt to the new traditions they helped to foster and made some new friends along the way.
Anyone that attended that first class of Gatlinburg-Pittman High School is invited to join the celebration and renew old friendships and share memories. Anyone interested in attending can contact Sammy Soehn by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The admission to attend is $20. Checks or money orders may be sent to; Sammy Soehn, P.O. Box 93, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. RSVP by Sept.1, 2014.